Justia U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use
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The Benalcazars purchased 43 acres in Genoa Township in 2001. The property sits at the northern end of the Township’s more developed areas and abuts the Hoover Reservoir. The parcel was zoned as Rural Residential; development would have required separate septic systems, clear-cutting, and multiple driveways. In 2018, the Benalcazars obtained rezoning of the property to a Planned Residential District, which permits higher density development. Township residents approved a referendum that prevented the amendment from taking effect, O.R.C. 519.12(H).The Benalcazars sued. In a settlement, the Township agreed to change the zoning designation; the Benalcazars agreed to reduce the proposed development from 64 homes to 56 homes, to provide more open space, and to increase the width of some lots. O.R.C. 505.07 provides “Notwithstanding . . . any vote of the electors on a petition for zoning referendum … a township may settle any court action by a consent decree or court-approved settlement agreement which may include an agreement to rezone.” The district court permitted objectors to intervene, dismissed the Benalcazars’ due process claims, but ruled that the Benalcazars stated a plausible equal protection claim, and approved the consent decree. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Benalcazars’ due process and equal protection claims are not “frivolous” but “arguable.” The district court had subject-matter jurisdiction and had the authority to approve a settlement. No other merits inquiry was required. View "Benalcazar v. Genoa Township" on Justia Law

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In April 2017, a tax foreclosure action was commenced against the then-owner of the Cincinnati property, Davis. The city was named as a defendant. Notice of a May 2018 order for a sheriff’s sale was served on the city on June 1, 2018. During 2017-2018, a building on the property was also the subject of administrative condemnation proceedings. The condemnation decision, dated July 16, 2018, was sent by certified mail to the then-owner, Davis. After the public hearing, but before the decision to demolish the building was made, Plaintiff was the successful bidder at the July 5 sheriff’s sale. A decree confirming the sale entered on July 17. A sheriff’s deed was issued and was recorded in August.Plaintiff was not aware of the demolition decision. On November 14, 2018, the city sent letters to Plaintiff summarizing the public nuisance proceedings and the decision to raze the building, requesting that Plaintiff respond within 10 days The letters were sent via certified mail but were never delivered to Plaintiff. The city made no subsequent efforts to provide notice to Plaintiff.The building was demolished on April 8, 2019. The city demanded $10,515.00 from Plaintiff for the costs of the demolition. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the rejection of Plaintiff’s claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and for trespass. Plaintiff was provided with “notice reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances,” of the pendency of the condemnation proceedings. The city did not need to obtain a warrant to demolish a vacant building that had been condemned by administrative proceedings which met due process requirements. View "Keene Group, Inc. v. City of Cincinnati" on Justia Law

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The Moore family, individually or in trust, has owned and maintained the 108-acre Hiram, Ohio property since 1813. They have operated a small airport on the Property since 1948. Around 1951, the Township enacted a zoning resolution that zoned the Property as Rural-Residential and classified the airport as a nonconforming use, permitted to continue so long as the use is not abandoned for two years. The airport remained active in varying degrees but its use for ultralight aircraft and hang gliders started recently, and prompted nuisance complaints from neighbors. In 2016, Township officials told Moore that he needed a certificate of nonconforming use to continue the airport’s operations.The Board of Zoning Appeals voted to grant Moore a certificate but imposed several conditions. The Portage County Common Pleas Court modified the conditions. The Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed.While his state court appeal was pending, Moore filed a federal suit, alleging violations of his procedural and substantive due process rights and his equal protection rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Sixth Circuit affirmed that the suit was barred by principles of claim preclusion. There was a prior final, valid decision on the merits by a court of competent jurisdiction; this action involves the same parties; this action raises claims that were or could have been litigated in the Ohio action; and this suit arose out of the transaction or occurrence that was the subject matter of the Ohio action. View "Moore v. Hiram Township" on Justia Law

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To advertise its nearby adult bookstore, Lion’s Den displays a billboard, affixed to a tractor-trailer, on a neighbor’s property. Kentucky’s Billboard Act prohibits such off-site billboards if the advertisement is not securely affixed to the ground, the sign is attached to a mobile structure, and no permit has been obtained. None of these requirements applies to an on-site billboard advertisement. The Act applies equally to commercial and non-commercial speech on billboards.In a First Amendment challenge to the Act, the Sixth Circuit affirmed an injunction, prohibiting the Commonwealth from enforcing its law. The Act regulates commercial and non-commercial speech on content-based grounds by distinguishing between messages concerning on-site activities and those concerning off-site activities. The court applied strict scrutiny and held that the Act is not tailored to achieve Kentucky’s purported interests in safety and aesthetics. Kentucky has offered no reason to believe that on-site signs pose a greater threat to safety than do off-site signs and billboards are a "greater eyesore." View "L.D. Management Co. v. Gray" on Justia Law

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CHKRS leased Friedman’s property and paid $8,500 for an option to purchase by giving 30 days’ notice. With respect to eminent-domain, the lease stated that any money from the City of Dublin was payable to Friedman “until [CHKRS] has procured on the purchase option.” Dublin was constructing a roundabout near the property. Weeks later, Dublin notified the residents that workers would be entering to construct a bike path through the leased property. Dublin initiated a “quick-take” action, adding CHKRS to the suit, and deposited $25,080. with the court. CHKRS emailed Friedman, indicating that CHKRS intended to buy the property. Ohio courts ruled that the email did not “procure” the purchase option and that Friedman was entitled to Dublin’s funds. Dublin began construction. CHKRS sued, citing the driveway's removal. In 2016, the city constructed a new driveway, which CHKRS asserts suffers from design flaws, violates building and traffic codes, creates a hazard, and limits access. CHKRS completed its purchase of the property.CHKRS filed federal litigation, asserting takings and due-process claims, seeking payment for the defective replacement driveway. CHKRS disavowed any attempt to again seek payment for the appropriation of the bike-path easements. The court held that CHKRS lacked Article III standing, reasoning that the state courts had already held that CHKRS lacked a protectable interest in the property.The Sixth Circuit reversed. Article III standing was not the correct doctrine. CHKRS established its standing by alleging a colorable interest in the property for its takings claim. The district court misread Ohio issue-preclusion law in reaching the contrary result. The court affirmed the dismissal of CHKRS’s due-process claims as forfeited. View "CHKRS, LLC v. City of Dublin, Ohio" on Justia Law

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International, an outdoor advertising company, sought to erect digital billboards in two separate locations within the City of Troy. International's permit and variance applications were denied. International filed suit (42 U.S.C. 1983), alleging that the ordinance granted unfettered discretion and contained unconstitutional content-based restrictions as it exempted from permit requirements certain categories of signs, such as flags and “temporary signs.” During the litigation, Troy amended the Ordinance.The Sixth Circuit remanded. The original Ordinance imposed a prior restraint because the right to display a sign that did not come within an exception as a flag or as a “temporary sign” depended on obtaining either a permit or a variance. The standards for granting a variance contained multiple vague, undefined criteria, such as “public interest,” “general purpose and intent,” “adversely affect[ing],” and “hardship.” Even meeting these criteria did not guarantee a variance; the Board retained discretion to deny it. The amendment, however, rendered the action for declaratory and injunctive relief moot. The severability of the variance provisions rendered moot its claim for damages. The court reinstated a claim that the ordinance imposed content-based restrictions without a compelling government interest for reconsideration under the correct standard. A regulation of commercial speech that is not content-neutral is still subject to strict scrutiny. View "International Outdoor, Inc. v. City of Troy" on Justia Law

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In 2016, the Ohio Department of Transportation began a construction project on a portion of Interstate Highway 75 near the Plaintiffs’ Hancock County properties. As a result of this construction, storm and groundwater flooded those properties three times and caused significant damage. The Plaintiffs filed suit, including a claim brought directly under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 19 of the Ohio Constitution, seeking a declaratory judgment that the flooding caused a “change in topography [that] constitutes a taking of private property without just compensation,” and compensation for the same, and a claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983 seeking damages for the alleged taking. The district court dismissed, finding that Ohio’s Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity deprived it of subject matter jurisdiction. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. States’ sovereign immunity predates the Constitution; unless the Constitution itself, or Congress acting under a constitutional grant of authority, abrogates that immunity, it remains in place. The Sixth Circuit has previously held that the states’ sovereign immunity protects them from takings claims for damages in federal court and that Ohio’s statutory mechanism for obtaining compensation to remedy a Takings Clause violation does provide reasonable, certain, and adequate procedures. View "Ladd v. Marchbanks" on Justia Law

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Straser built a carport in 2009, about 17 feet from the road. The zoning ordinance requires carports to be 30 feet from the road. The city notified Straser four times that his carport violated the rule. In 2016, the city cited Straser’s neighbor for violating the setback rule. The neighbor accused the city of targeting him for enforcement based on his race and Muslim religion. In 2017, the city cited Straser for his carport. City Attorney Trew stated that the city would enforce the rule, having “had trouble with a Muslim” who complained about a similar violation. Straser claimed he was fined because he is a Christian and the city did not want to favor him over his Muslim neighbor.The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. A government that enforces its laws equally against those of different faiths honors the neutrality imperative of the Fourteenth Amendment. Straser did not identify any cases in which the city refused to enforce the 30-foot rule against non-Christians nor did he show discriminatory purpose and effect. Straser’s own account of the conversation showed that Trew was committed to even-handed enforcement. Straser has no evidence that Trew knew of Straser’s religious beliefs. View "Straser v. City of Athens" on Justia Law

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Tennessee’s Billboard Act, enacted to comply with the Federal Highway Beautification Act, 23 U.S.C. 131, provides that anyone intending to post a sign along a roadway must apply to the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) for a permit unless the sign falls within one of the Act’s exceptions. One exception applies to signage “advertising activities conducted on the property on which [the sign is] located.” Thomas owned a billboard on an otherwise vacant lot and posted a sign on it supporting the 2012 U.S. Summer Olympics Team. Tennessee ordered him to remove it because TDOT had denied him a permit and the sign did not qualify for the “on-premises” exception, given that there were no activities on the lot to which the sign could possibly refer. Thomas argued that the Act violated the First Amendment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed that the Act is unconstitutional. The on-premises exception was content-based and subject to strict scrutiny. Whether the Act limits on-premises signs to only certain messages or limits certain messages from on-premises locations, the limitation depends on the content of the message. It does not limit signs from or to locations regardless of the messages. The provision was not severable from the rest of the Act. View "Thomas v. Bright" on Justia Law

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American Islamic Community Center (AICC) unsuccessfully sought zoning permission to build a mosque in Sterling Heights, Michigan. AICC sued, alleging violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and the First Amendment. The Department of Justice also investigated. The city negotiated a consent judgment that allowed AICC to build the mosque. At the City Council meeting at which the consent judgment was approved, people voiced concerns about issues such as traffic and noise; others disparaged Islam and AICC. Comments and deliberation were punctuated by audience outbursts. Eventually, Mayor Taylor cleared the chamber of all spectators, except the press. The Council voted to settle the case. A consent judgment was entered. Plaintiffs sought a judgment declaring the consent judgment invalid. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. The defendants fulfilled their procedural obligations; they considered and made findings on the relevant criteria, such as “parking, traffic and overall size,” before voting. The court upheld limitations on speech imposed during the meeting: the relevance rule and a rule forbidding attacks on people and institutions. The city did not “grant the use of a forum to people whose views it finds acceptable, but deny use to those wishing to express less favored or more controversial views.” View "Youkhanna v. City of Sterling Heights" on Justia Law